Partnership aims to add graphics to wireless Web

Wireless Internet gets more 'image'-inative

A pair of software development companies thinks the wireless Web needs to be more graphic.

Graphics engine Simplylook and wireless provider Gravitate want to see pictures, graphs, pie charts -- anything that isn't text -- added to wireless Web pages.

The duo next month will launch a way to provide wireless Web pages with interactive imagery, such as offering maps with directions highlighted on them, or being able to zoom in or out of an image. Both companies are hoping to latch onto what could be a new trend in the wireless Internet and technology companies: taking what is now a mostly text-based service and making it more visually appealing for consumers.

The introduction of such technology comes during a period of retrenchment for the wireless industry. Wireless phone giants Motorola and Nokia both recently warned of lower demand for their products. Sprint PCS, thought to be one of the more innovative wireless network operators, said only about half of the 1 million subscribers to its wireless Web mobile phone feature are actually paying for the service.

The February release will be compatible with WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and Palm devices. In June, the companies plan to release a second version of their software, which will be compatible with Java-based "smart phones" and the Microsoft Pocket PC platform.

The partnership will combine Simplylook's technology, which allows customers to zoom in or pan around images on Internet-ready mobile devices, with Gravitate software that pinpoints mobile consumers and supplies them with location-specific services.

Of the 2.3 million wireless Web pages, there are only a few that have icons. Instead, graphics are "more like icons for news stories", said James Siedel of wireless consulting firm Forquest.

Siedel and other analysts question whether graphics have their place on the tiny screen of a smart phone or Internet-enabled handheld device. "It's a rather obvious problem," Siedel said.

The two companies, however, say the future of the wireless Web depends on bringing graphics to the wireless world.

"In the early days, the Internet was mainly text-based. Then it moved into graphics, and use took off," said Rajit Gadh, founder of Simplylook. "We think wireless will follow the same progression."

Another hurdle is bandwidth, although Gadh said the graphics aren't any larger than the industry-accepted 1.4KB/s download size.

"A lot of wireless Web infrastructure isn't precisely there, now," said Ron Gerber, chief executive of Angelbeat, a wireless consulting firm. "When you look at multimedia and wireless, it's clearly going to happen in the future, but that's a little ways out."

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